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Tips: Preparing Your Wedding Day Timeline

I recently got off the phone with a former client who told me she had no clue what to expect on her wedding day because she’d never done this before. She didn’t even realize how much she didn’t know. I realized how common this is for my clients, so it’s become my aim to educate clients so they can have a fun, stress-free wedding and help other photographers help their clients to do the same. 

For that aim, I’ve prepared tips on timing and preparation for the wedding day schedule. With my team, I like to tell the wedding story from start to finish with enough time for creativity, which includes buffer time to make sure things run smoothly. Every wedding is different though, so the following guidelines should be applied if useful.

GETTING READY:  When scheduling time for getting ready photography, we build in a little time for us to get creative, to tell the story of the anticipation and little details of the day, like the birds singing outside of the window, the texture of the dress, the way the clouds rolled along the landscape, etc. I like to do a minimum of one and a half hours for this portion of the day.

From a bride’s standpoint, getting ready will take 3-6 hours for ladies & about 2 hours for men. Typically, hair and makeup last 2 hours per person. For Indian weddings we expect it will take a minimum of three hours. For guys, we like to start just before or after the shower, and for the ladies, typically halfway through hair and makeup, and we expect to photograph the getting ready portion of the day for a minimum of an hour, or an hour and a half to two hours if you want creative shots or detail shots.

VENDORS: Florals should be delivered & pinned before any formal shots. Beauty teams should arrive early as hair & makeup are the most likely to cause a delay.

On buffer time: One of the easiest ways to have a stressful wedding is to avoid including buffer time. The buffer time is included in the schedule below, but typically it’s 15-30 minutes of padding on either end of whatever event is happening. It may seem like a lot, but the buffer time is very important for the flow of a wedding day and prevents any major backups due to the complexity of the day and unanticipated events. 

FIRST LOOK The moment clients see each other for the first time in their wedding clothing is a really exciting moment. You may want to put some thought into where this will take place, and think about whether or not to want to travel to a special location. First look typically takes about 15 minutes & is followed by another 20mins – 1 hr of portrait time. Add an extra 20 mins. or for travel & more to compensate for city traffic.

FAMILY/BRIDAL PARTY FORMALS: Can be done before or after the ceremony (or split) & take 30 mins for family and 30 for bridal party. Do them pre-ceremony for a more relaxed day & less to think about after the ceremony. We want to get our clients to the cocktail hour to have fun, or just bask in being married.  It’s important to email/call family members beforehand to let them know where they should expect to meet (and tell them to meet fifteen minutes before the scheduled time to account for latecomers).

CEREMONY We like to be finished with formals at least 30 minutes before the ceremony time (in addition to traffic). Arrive early to avoid traffic & being seen by guests. After the ceremony, we suggest avoiding receiving lines as they tend to take a very long chunk of the day. Most ceremonies run about half an hour, but can be up to 2.5-3 hours depending on the traditions. 

SUNSET CEREMONIES: Plan to finish the ceremony 15 minutes before sunset in case anything runs late. We also suggest doing all formals before sunset so that the lighting is consistent.

COCKTAIL HOUR An hour before sunset is a magical time for cocktail hour. If formals are done in the morning, we may go out for 5 minutes for sunset photos. Otherwise this is a good time to relax & mingle.

RECEPTION Dinner is a good time for remaining candid group shots. The longer you wait, the less guests are going to want to pose for shots, or find drunk uncle Mike.  We may do a few night portraits, but the rest of the evening is for partying. There are often some formalities at receptions, like parent dances, etc — we suggest doing toasts before any formal dances, and parent dances before the first dance as a couple, so that we are well-prepared with our lights and have gotten some time to prepare to be creative and learn the best angles of the room. We like to stay at least an hour into the dancing,  but otherwise at this time, we use our discretion to determine if we have a good full set. 

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